How could you not love the butterfly bush, Buddleja? It’s so easy to grow, and is covered in spikes of scented flowers attracting butterflies throughout mid to late summer (and if deadheaded, well into autumn). Although some might think that it grows a little too freely and is in danger of being a bit of a pest, it is very easily kept in check by pruning and removing unwanted seedlings before they get too woody.
I noticed whilst pruning that most Buddleja davidii cultivars have large green leaves in the summer, but during the autumn and winter those leaves are replaced with smaller, grey, slightly furry leaves which presumably are more resistant to frost and to cold winds.
My favourite is B. davidii ‘Black Knight’ which has the darkest flowers of the many available varieties, looking almost purpley black in some lights. The flowers are slender, smaller than many of the varieties, and look quite elegant (which is not something I would generally say about this species) and although it has an Award of Garden Merit from the R.H.S. I don’t think it grows as vigorously as some of the others.
‘Black Knight’ was produced at the influential Moerheim Nursery in the Netherlands in the 1950s by the plant breeder Bonne Ruys (you may know the lovely and popular Helenium ‘Moerheim Beauty‘). Ruys was also responsible for introducing the first perennial pink delphinium. His daughter Mien Ruys became a leading garden designer and one of the most important landscape architects of the twentieth century.
The Moerheim nursery was given the title ‘Royal’ in 1904 for supplying the Royal gardens of Het Loo and Soestdijk, and is now one of the largest wholesale nurseries in Europe.
But back to the Buddleja; the genus was named after the Reverend Adam Buddle (1660-1715) who was vicar at North Fambridge near Maldon.Although Buddle was a keen amateur botanist he did not introduce the Buddleja into England; that was done by William Houstoun, a Scottish medic and contemporary of Buddle’s, who collected plants whilst he was a ship’s surgeon in the Caribbean and South America.Other species were later discovered, and our Buddleja davidii was found in China by the French missionary Father Armand David in the late nineteenth century.But it was Houstoun who suggested to Linnaeus that Buddle should be remembered and honoured by having the plant named after him. But Linnaeus, when writing the name used a long-tailed ‘i’ which was misinterpreted as a ‘j’ and so what should have been Buddleia became Buddleja.